Suppose you're on stage and pour your heart into a performance. You stare out into the darkness and can't hear any reaction. No one cheers. No one boos. Rather, just silence. One such experience would be a little strange, but repeated ones would start to get eery. And why is this guy up on stage? Is he delusional? Or just pathetic?
I can picture a Twilight Zone episode along these lines. The houselights dim at the commencement of the performance. After increasingly desperate attempts to get a reaction from the audience, our protagonist runs over to the control panel and frantically switches on the lights. He looks out and sees... an audience full of grinning skeletons. The joke's on him.
Am I complaining? Nah. Just wondering. Just typing the first thing that pops into the head, like any other morning.
An added concern is the uniqueness of the blog. Out of the millions of other blogs out there, I feel I am justified in suspecting that there is no other like it. But uniqueness cuts both ways, especially for someone who isn't particularly self-confident. If we are different from the crowd and people don't respond, the default human reaction is to ask What's wrong with me?
In fact, one thing that persistently amazes me about this world is the number of people with far more self-confidence than I will ever have, but with so little reason. Let me be clear: I'm not complaining about low-self esteem. Rather, I think my estimation of myself is pretty objective. What I don't understand is why most everyone in public life seems so lacking in this objectivity.
One could cite thousands of examples from politics, the media, entertainment, and academia, but why, for example, is this Ocasio-Cortez person so preternaturally confident? Why is she not dying of shame? I wouldn't be able to leave the house.
Really, it's just another example of our national crisis of self-esteem. There is waaaaay too much of it. Which is by no means an argument for low self-esteem. Rather, for accurate, which is to say, objective self-esteem. Everyone is precious, but few are special.
Let's say you are a musician, of which there are millions in the world. How many of these are actually special? Certainly fewer than one percent.
Everyone and every skill is distributed along a Bell Curve. If I remember my statistics class correctly, in a normally distributed Bell Curve -- say, vis-a-vis IQ -- 68% of the population will fall one standard deviation above or below the mean, and 95% will be within two standard deviations. 2% are significantly above average (three deviations), while only .1% are waaaay above average (four).
If you are in that .1%, you are entitled to call yourself special. But only in the particular skill being measured! For example, Einstein was no doubt among the .1% in math and physics. What about politics? In that case, he is among the 99.9%.
Labron James? .1% in basketball. Everything else? 99.99.
As you may have noticed from the sidebar, I read a lot of books about musicians and the music industry. I love reading about .1% musicians and their creative process.
But I am also struck at how there seems to be a kind of cosmic compensation at work, such that these musical geniuses and visionaries are not only average in other areas, but often totally dysfunctional. If they weren't great musicians, most would be dead or in prison. It's hard to imagine, for example, Miles Davis, functioning in any other context but music.
We've blogged about this subject in the past. The so-called "self-esteem movement" got underway in the 1970s, and was one of the first signs of the rot that would eventually pervade the discipline of psychology. Note that this movement is an exact inverted image not only of our venerable "wisdom tradition," but every wisdom tradition since man has been man.
"Humility" is not just a spiritual imperative, but a quality of sanity -- of objectivity toward oneself. In other words, if one is honest with oneself, one will naturally be humble. After all, you know all your secrets, so you, more than anyone else, have reason to be humble.
We have a right to feel good about ourselves, so long as we aren't fooling ourselves. But man has no right to ever-estimate himself, because this is a doorway to horror. Our bloodiest century -- that would be #20 -- resulted from the absurdly high self-esteem of a handful of people -- Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, et al.
My son has lately developed an interest in World War II, so the other night I re-watched Saving Private Ryan with him. One comes away from the film with a sense of humility and gratitude toward those who sacrificed for a country that has given us so much. At the end, the elderly Ryan speaks for us when he says to his wife, "tell me I've lived a good life... Tell me I'm a good man!"
Conversely, imagine an Obama -- a malignant narcissist with delusional self-esteem -- who wonders instead why the country doesn't measure up to him.
Well, what have we learned this morning? I don't know. I suppose that with so little feedback, this blog will become more of an idiosyncratic, circumnavelgazing diary. I'm still on stage, performing as usual. But with just me in the audience. Boooooooooo!